When my son Dan was in the throes of severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, he could not eat. I have previously discussed how his symptoms could easily have been mistaken for an eating disorder, but that is not what he was dealing with. He was neither fixated on his weight nor his body image. Rather his focus was on keeping his world safe, and for whatever reason, his OCD convinced him that could be achieved by not eating. The restriction and denial of food, in Dan’s case, was a compulsion. And a dangerous one at that. As is often the case in the world of OCD, Dan achieved the very thing he was trying so hard to prevent. Instead of keeping his world safe, he put his life in jeopardy, courtesy of OCD’s demands.
I knew little to nothing about obsessive-compulsive disorder when Dan was in crisis, and certainly never associated eating problems with OCD. I thought Dan was “the only one” who had this issue. Over the years, however, I’ve heard of many people with OCD who struggle with eating in various ways. And a good number of them are children.
I find this heartbreaking. I know that OCD can attack any and all aspects of a person’s life, but when it latches on to something as basic and vital as the need to be nourished, it takes the torment of OCD to another level. And not just for the person with OCD, but for his or her loved ones as well. I know from personal experience the feelings of panic and despair when I couldn’t get my son to eat a morsel of food. Talk about feeling helpless. What kind of mother can’t feed her child?
While I’ve mentioned that Dan’s obsessions centered on harm coming to himself and others, there are many reasons why those with OCD refuse to eat. Perhaps they feel all food is contaminated and will make them sick or even kill them. Maybe they are afraid of choking or vomiting, or they have to chew a certain way and it’s just easier not to eat. The list goes on and on. It is important to note that it is not unusual for children with PANDAS to also struggle with eating issues.
While eating only certain foods isn’t quite as dangerous as not eating at all, it is still a very real problem. Malnourishment and dehydration are common, and other complications can easily ensue. As I mentioned earlier in this post, OCD succeeds in accomplishing the exact opposite of what those with OCD are seeking to attain.
So what’s the answer? In my opinion, a good therapist who understands OCD and eating disorders and can differentiate between the two and begin proper treatment as soon as possible. And while not being able to nourish yourself or your child is not something I’d wish on anyone, there is hope. My son recovered and now enjoys food as much as he did before OCD came into our lives. If he can do it, so can you or your loved one. OCD, in any form, can be beaten!